NAME: Jo Ann Ross
TITLE: President and Chief Revenue Officer
COMPANY: CBS Corp.
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: First female head of ad sales in broadcast television. Promoted in August 2017 to oversee the company’s multiplatform advertising sales efforts.
QUOTABLE: “We are passionate about showcasing respectful, authentic and powerful depictions of women and girls as we continue to promote diversity and inclusion through our programming.”
Jo Ann Ross’s sales career started when she worked as a “shop girl” on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. To stop having to work Saturdays, she took a job in the media department at ad agency Bozell & Jacobs.
The stepping stones from there are part of her longrunning story: She moved to network sales at ABC, then joined CBS as head of Olympic sales in 1992. Ten years later, she became the first woman to head up advertising sales for one of the big broadcast networks.
Today, she is president and chief revenue officer of CBS Corp., one of the largest U.S. media companies. And she is now the industry’s longest-serving head of sales.
“Jo Ann is one of the most respected people in our business and a true force of nature,” CBS Corp. interim CEO Joe Ianniello said. “She is everything you could want in a sales chief — smart, competitive, aggressive and innovative, as well as a tireless worker. But what sets her apart as a great leader is that she believes mentorship is both a duty and a privilege, and as a mentor she has inspired so many people in the media business.”
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The ad business was mainly a men’s club in those early days, particularly in sports. “I didn’t have any trepidation about it,” she said. The transition wasn’t easy, but Ross said she got support from CBS execs, including then-network president Peter Lund.
“I’ve been really fortunate and really blessed in my career to have a great work ethic,” Ross said. “I think everybody knows I’m Type A. I’ve always had good people around me.
“You’re only as good as your team,” she continued. “I want people who work for me that are smarter than me, and they just raise the bar for me every day.”
Julie Rieger, chief data strategist and head of media for 20th Century Fox Film, has been working with Ross for years. Rieger recalled working with Ross on integrating messages about the film X-Men Origins: Wolverine into How I Met Your Mother.
“It was like she was Wonder Woman and her super power was not to pass on all the drama to us,” Rieger said. “She handles her job like a dancer. It’s graceful, it’s enchanting and it’s never forced. That’s what I think makes her who she is.”
As the ad business has changed, Ross has been able to make wiser decisions than some of her competitors because of the people she surrounds herself with, said Irwin Gotlieb, former CEO of GroupM.
“She is admired across the industry, not just because of her roles and achievements, but because who she is,” Gotlieb said. “She’s tough as nails in a negotiation, but the way she inspires people, not just at CBS but across the media industry, and her caring mentorship make her really unique.”
Last year was a tough one for CBS and Ross as longtime CEO Les Moonves was forced out amid allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault over the course of his career. Ross didn’t see that coming. In a tweet after the first allegations surfaced in July, Ross expressed support for Moonves. “Leslie has always been an advocate and mentor to me, showing me the deepest respect at all times,” she wrote.
She said she was “very sad” and “very troubled” by the situation and that she was “grappling with how a person could be one way with someone and be totally different with someone else.” She added that women accusing Moonves were “very, very brave and their voices need to be heard.”
Ross said she really didn’t have a mentor as she came up through the ranks. Today, the mentoring she has done with women in the business has been on an informal basis.
“My door is always open, so there are a lot of women from here at CBS and women in the business that will touch base with me, call out to me, come in and say, ‘Can we have a cup of coffee?’ and it will be about work-life balance or what’s the next step in their career,” she said.
A little bit of that can go a long way. At last year’s International Radio & Television Society Mentorship Awards, “I was so taken by the fact that there were a handful of women who don’t work at CBS who attended because they wanted to reach out to me and they wanted to thank me for mentoring them,” she said.
Ross recently also received The Gracies Leadership Award from the Alliance for Women in Media, an organization that’s nearly 70 years old. “The founders back then were way ahead of their time and they recognized that women had a lot to contribute and obviously a lot to say,” she said.
Under Ross, CBS has gotten involved with newer initiatives, including #SeeHer with the Association of National Advertisers and CBS’s own EYE Speak program designed to promote female empowerment.
Portraying girls and women accurately in media is important to Ross. “We need to give them confidence and make sure they can be heard,” she said.
Ross was able to give #SeeHer a shout-out during one of her typically brief-but-memorable appearances on the Carnegie Hall stage during last year’s CBS upfront. “I’m only up there for a minute of fame, but I felt it was really, really important for us to stick a flag in the ground in front of that audience,” she said.
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Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.